Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grad students and the "forbidden allure" of the weekend


Here's how a CalTech chemist read the riot act to a member of his group in 1996 -- in a letter printed out on his official freaking letterhead:

Guido,

I would like to provide for you in written form what is expected from you as a member of the research group. In addition to the usual work-day schedule, I expect all of the members of the group to work evenings and weekends. You will find that this is the norm here at Caltech....I have noticed that you have failed to come into lab on several weekends, and more recently failed to show up in the evenings. [...]

I expeect you to correct your work-ethic immediately.

I receive at least one post-doctoral application each day from the U.S. and around the world. If you are unable to meet the expected work-schedule, I am sure that I can find someone else as an appropriate replacement for this important project.

You can read the appalling letter in full at the Chemistry Blog, which has been updated with links to other such overbearing instructions to serfs (no, make that slaves) grad students and post-docs.

Boston Globe has a response from Erick Carreira, the CalTech chemist behind that letter (he works in Switzerland now). Carreira hints at the possibility (it sounds more like implausibility to me) of this being a part of some joke -- but he also says this:

After all no one is perfect. Is it really fair to be haunted by these endlessly? I do not know how old you are, but can you really say you have done nothing you would rather forget about and not be reminded of 14 years later? I like to think people grow and change.

Carreira's and other professors' explicit instructions show us why PHD Comics resonates with grad students all over the world -- there are such horror stories everywhere.

The best comment is from Maggie Koerth-Baker of Boing Boing:

It's worth noting that Guido Koch [the guy who received Carreira's letter] is employed today, despite his youthful experimentation with the forbidden allure of the weekend.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Links ...


  1. Janet Stemwedel: Corrupting the youth at freshman orientation -- a fun list of Top 10 Reasons To Pursue a Philosophy Major. At No. 9, we have "9. Because it is not what everyone else is doing."

  2. Suresh at The Geomblog points us to "Flowcharts for the life of the tenured and untenured professor"

  3. Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing: Nature vs. Nurture: The neuroscientist with a murderer's brain.

  4. Nick Rowe: The use of knowledge in blogging. See also Matt Yglesias: Do I have anything interesting to say?.

  5. Peter Singer: Is it okay to cheat in football?

    [German goalkeeper Manuel] Neuer could have been a hero, standing up for what is right. Instead, he is just another footballer who is very skillful at cheating.

Faculty salaries in the US


Here's the table.

A new assistant professor in engineering starts at around $75,000; in physics, mathematics and biology, he / she would start at $55,000 - 57,000.

Viewed from another angle: 50k to 60k is the norm, while engineering, computer science (72k), business (95k) and law (92k) are the outliers.

Libertarianism in cartoons


The Frustrated Teacher features a good one: Libertarians Make Bad Lifeguards.

And the best of them all is here: Atlas Shrugged 2: One Hour Later.

Update [30 June 2010]: Lefty Cartoons tells us that there are actually 24 types of libertarians. My favorite is this: "Atlas: Somday, me and my friends will quit updating our blogs, and the economy will collapse!"

Monday, June 28, 2010

Newsbite of the day


There are more news channels (81 and counting) [in India] than general entertainment channels.

From Churumuri's summary of the Indian Express story on India's couch affair with TV.

What makes that newsbite intriguing is another related comparison:

News and current affairs channels has 7.5% viewership share; GECs have 51%.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Site of the Month: Science is Beauty


Science is Beauty has a simple and very alluring thesis: Science is everywhere, Beauty appears in only some places, let's go to the intersection.

The site features some of the most gorgeous   pictures from the world of mathematics and science, and great   quotes.

Recently, it added a new category: humour. Check out the latest!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

History of blogging -- written in the year 2000


An early look at the blogging phenomenon from circa 2000: Portrait of The Blogger as a Young Man [Via Jason Kottke]. I loved reading this part:

.. [I]nevitably, articles have been written -- in Salon, The New York Times, Wired -- consecrating Web logs as yet another New New Thing: At one time or another in the last 12 months, they have been the future of journalism, a budding branch on the tree of literature, or both.

In fact, they are neither, say some members of the Web's weary anti-hype brigades. "Sorry, buddy -- you're just a dork who can't come up with anything more than a paragraph or two to say every day," wrote Teeth e-zine's Ben Brown in an open letter to Web loggers last spring. "You're not a designer, you're not a writer, and you're not an editor!"

Well, no, blogger, you're not. [...]

Links ...


  1. I've seen Prof. C.N.R. Rao being described as Chairman of SAC-PM, top scientist, potential Nobel laureate, etc. This one made me chuckle: Pure Science Guru [the rest of the news story is pretty inane, though].

  2. chaunceydevega at We Are Respectable Negroes: Are the Masses Asses? Barack Obama's Oil Speech Rewritten to a Seventh Grade Level

  3. Matthew Moore in The (London) Telegraph: Google's Easter Eggs: 15 Best Hidden Jokes.

    Addendum: Talking about Google, this Abstruse Goose cartoon is definitely worth a look.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Effects of a Liberal Arts Education on Managers


Via a great catch by Chris Blattman, here's an awesome experiment initiated by Bell System (AT&T's ancestor) in the 1950s. Responding to the perception that its managers should know not only "how to answer questions," but also "what questions are worth asking," the company,

[together with the University of Pennsylvania], ... set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education.

The results were pretty, ... um ..., revealing!

At the end of the 10-month course, an anonymous questionnaire was circulated among the Bell students; their answers revealed that they were reading more widely than they had before — if they had read at all — and they were more curious about the world around them. At a time when the country was divided by McCarthyism, they tended to see more than one side to any given argument.

What’s more, the graduates were no longer content to let the machinery of business determine the course of their lives. One man told Baltzell that before the program he had been “like a straw floating with the current down the stream” and added: “The stream was the Bell Telephone Company. I don’t think I will ever be that straw again.”

The institute was judged a success by Morris S. Viteles, one of the pioneers of industrial psychology, who evaluated its graduates. But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities. By 1960, the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives was finished.

Annals of Extreme Coaching: Tapasya at Super 30


Aditi Phadnis of Business Standard has a Q&A with Anand Kumar, the man behind the Super 30 cram school in Patna. This line stands out:

During this one-year tapasya, they live like sadhus. But the result is happiness.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Links


  1. Dan Ariely: Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People (do read it all the way to the end!). Here's the 5th habit:

    5) Relativity in salary. The fatter a sea lion is, the more sea lionesses he has in his harem. He doesn’t need to be immense, just slightly bigger than the others (too fat and he won’t make it out of the water). As it turns out, it’s the same for salaries; we don’t figure out how much we need to be satisfied, we just want to make more than the people around us. More than our co-workers, more than our neighbors, and more than our wife’s sister’s husband. The first sad thing about our desire to compare is that our happiness depends less on us, and more on the people around us. The second sad thing is that we often make decisions that make it harder for us to be happy with our comparisons. ... [Bold emphasis added]

  2. Sam Sommers in Psychology Today Blogs: Mars and Venus at the Video Arcade: "Of course men and women are different. But is it all about biology?"

  3. Robin Sloan at Snarkmarket: Stock and Flow:

    Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind peo­ple that you exist.

    Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the con­tent you pro­duce that’s as inter­est­ing in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what peo­ple dis­cover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, build­ing fans over time.

Dangerous Dissertation?


Invariably, ... they suggest his work be classified. "Classify my dissertation? Crap. Does this mean I have to redo my PhD?" he said. "They're worried about national security. I'm worried about getting my degree." For academics, there always has been the imperative to publish or perish. In Gorman's case, there's a new concern: publish and perish.

Doesn't it sound very much like the blurb on a racy, blockbuster thriller? It's from Laura Blumenfeld's WaPo story on a PhD thesis whose publication would pose a serious threat to national security. [Addendum: Should have noted that this story is from July 2003; see the comment from nihalparkar].

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Annals of Extreme Childhood


Exhibit 1: Reality Shows:

... [O]ne of these shows, which aims to select a “vamp queen” from among young girls, drew 340 initial entries after offering Rs 1 lakh for the winner and a chance to dance with “item girls” of Telugu cinema.

Exhibit 2: Cram Schools:

Last month a Bangalore preschool made national headlines when it started accepting eight-month-old babies for an educational program called "Brain Bear". It is designed to develop communicative, aesthetic, physical and mathematical skills.

Links


  1. Brian Palmer in Slate: Why Does the United Kingdom Get To Have Four National Soccer Teams? [Link via Chris Blattman]

  2. Mike Lacher in McSweeney's: Great Literature Retitled To Boost Website Traffic. Example: 7 Awesome Ways Barnyard Animals Are Like Communism.

    [Via Jason Kottke who also points to another such list with a twist].

  3. Here's one for Markets in Everything: Rent a White Guy [this too comes via Kottke].

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Prof. Ashley Tellis: An Update [With a Further Update]


The update appears near the end of this post, before the footnote.

Mail Today reports that Tellis himself has refused to comment on his sacking. And it reports this:

Ashley Tellis ... was asked to leave after his colleagues in the department allegedly complained about his "unlawful behaviour" and "deviant mischief".

There was also this online petition to "Ask the President of India to Protect LGBT Rights." That petition has now been taken down, because Tellis has informed the signatories that he "is taking other action and does not feel this is the appropriate time for this petition."

Yesterday's ToI report indicated that Tellis was to file an RTI application to IIT-H seeking all the relevant information on his sacking. [The contents of IIT-H's letter to him are not in the public domain].

Clearly, a legal battle is brewing. .

* * *

In their comments yesterday, Chitta and Rahul pointed to this article in which Tellis offers the argument that "if [paedophilia] is based on mutual consent, it is no big deal." [In a later article he defends his views].

I remember cringing while reading those articles a few months ago [1]; but I also took them as an example of a professor of humanities pushing the envelope on topics that are too edgy for polite conversation.

All that was until yesterday [see also the update below], when Rahul also pointed to something more damaging: "Elsewhere [Tellis] glories in his own paedophile activities with a Nepali boy." Unfortunately, that link does not exist any more [Does anyone know if it's archived / cached somewhere?]

Going by Rahul's characterization of that now-defunct article, getting sacked by IIT-H is the least of Tellis's problems, and all his good work [see here, here and here] can do little to rescue him.

* * *

Update: The offending article cited by Rahul is here. The key sentence in his description of that 'Nepali boy' episode (which appears right at the end) is this: "We were young." What Tellis was talking about was (probably) a teen affair, and not "paedophilic activities."

Here's my current take: there's no evidence in the public domain to implicate Prof. Tellis in 'paedophile activities". His articles on the topic of paedophilia may offend us -- as I said, the two TNIE articles make me cringe even now -- but that's no reason to say his removal from IIT-H is justified. [For a point-by-point rebuttal of his "man-boy love could be beautiful" thesis, do read this post by Ketan -- thanks to Chitta for the pointer].

Which is not to say IIT-H had other reasons to fire Tellis. Since I expect a lawsuit, I will wait for some more clarity on the Tellis vs. IIT-H battle ...

[End Update]

* * *

Footnote [1]: I came across Tellis's articles in The New Indian Express a few months ago when he came under attack for these views at another blog which went on to suggest that IIT-H should get rid of him. I wrote to him at that time to alert him about that blog post, and he e-mailed back saying he was already aware of it.

As it happens -- and this is too much of a coincidence! -- that damned post has also been taken down!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Did IIT-Hyderabad sack Prof. Ashley Tellis because of his gay activism?


In a ToI story, Nikhila Henry mounts a strong case by citing a variety of sources; but the key actors in the story -- the director, registrar, department chairman, or Prof. Tellis himself -- haven't yet made a public statement.

He faced strong resistance at IIT-H from the day he joined. "Ashley's entry was controversial with several groups among IIT faculty not wanting him in. There was internal bickering and resistance right from the beginning," said a source. Prior to Tellis's appointment, several faculty members had objected to his appointment.

"There were group mails sent against his appointment, asking the IIT director not to appoint him," a source said.

Some faculty members blamed Tellis for being too candid in discussing gay issues on campus. His article on `man-boy' love in a national daily further ruffled feathers. "The institute has a humanities wing but it is meant for technical education. It was found that students were extremely annoyed with Tellis's behaviour," said a faculty member.

However, a number of students disagreed with the faculty members. "He was one of the best teachers. Not many students had problems with him until the administration and other faculty members began asking questions about Tellis's behaviour in classroom," said a student. Students were even told to "be careful" with Tellis and "report abuse", the student said.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Links ...


  1. Onion: Adderall Receives Honorary Degree from Harvard: "... the synthetic psychostimulant [Adderall] was warmly praised by Harvard president Drew Faust, who called Adderall a stirring testament to what the human mind can achieve when chemically altered by a combination of dextroamphetamine and racemic DL-amphetamine salts."

  2. Janet Stemwedel's take on the University of California system's war against Nature Publishing Group: Shrinking budgets + skyrocketing subscription fees = UC boycott of NPG. [See also this Chronicle story].

  3. Drew Conway at Zero Intelligence Agents: Ten Reasons Why Graduate Students Should Blog: "Having a blog provides you an independent beacon upon which you can broadcast your own ideas. Consider this, ZIA is but a tiny blip within the academic blogosphere, but in the last year my CV has been downloaded by over 875 unique visitors, or more than twice a day."

Internet Sensation of the Month


Feminist Hulk is on Twitter to 'smash' patriarchy and male privilege. He tweets in haiku, he tweets in rhyme, he ... just tweets. Recently, he also "SMASH 140 CHARACTER BARRIER" with an interview for Ms.

Here's a sample from June 6, which appears to be the day for twaiku and twhyme [with line breaks inserted by me]:

HULK HAIKU TAKE SMASH,
PACK IT TIGHTLY, MAKE EQUIV
OF SMASH CONCENTRATE! #

HAIKU DO NOT RHYME.
HULK COULD CLAIM RHYME TOOL OF MAN.
REALLY, JUST TOO HARD. #

HULK NOW TRY TWEET
THAT WORK IN RHYME
FOR SMASH IS SWEET
(TASTE GREAT WITH LIME)... #

...FEMINISM
POSE NO THREAT
TO HULK PENIS
OR HULK POET. #

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Women, Science, Engineering


A bunch of (US-centric) links:

  1. Jennifer Hunt's NBER working paper: Why Do Women Leave Science and Engineering? (pdf):

    I use the 1993 and 2003 National Surveys of College Graduates to examine the higher exit rate of women compared to men from science and engineering relative to other fields. I find that the higher relative exit rate is driven by engineering rather than science, and show that 60% of the gap can be explained by the relatively greater exit rate from engineering of women dissatisfied with pay and promotion opportunities. Contrary to the existing literature, I find that family–related constraints and dissatisfaction with working conditions are only secondary factors. My results differ due to my use of non–science and engineering fields as a comparison group. The relative exit rate by gender from engineering does not differ from that of other fields once women's relatively high exit rates from male fields generally is taken into account.

  2. A set of inter-related stories in NYTimes: Bias Called Persistent for Women in Sciences, After Harvard Controversy, Conditions Change but Reputation Lingers, and Risk and Opportunity for Women in 21st Century.

  3. Janet Stemwedel comments on a recent article by John Tierney.

    On the general subject of claims for which there does not does not exist relevant empirical evidence, are there any published studies (or any research projects currently underway) to explore the connection Tierney, Summers, et al. seem to assume between being in the extreme right tail of laboratory measures of mathematical and scientific aptitude (like the math section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test) and having the chops to "to get a doctorate in science or to win tenure at a top university"? Because it strikes me as likely that there may be some crucial competencies required to do cutting-edge scientific research that the SAT just doesn't measure.

    Indeed, if tests like the SAT are such good measures of scientific potential, couldn't universities and federal funders of scientific research save themselves a lot of time by only training, hiring, and funding (potential) scientists with sufficiently high SAT scores, regardless of gender? Is there reason to believe that approach would deliver excellent scientific research without relying on such an "excess" of graduate students and postdocs?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Links ...


Busy week ahead, so all I can do is link. Interviews started today to select PhD students for the Fall semester. We -- basically, all the faculty in our Department -- interviewed nearly 40 candidates today. If this trend holds, we'll end up talking to over 150 aspirants (out of some 300+ candidates we invited) by Friday afternoon.

The interview attendance rate of over 50% is unusually high for our Department; it's probably indicative of the sorry state of the job market -- in good years, the strike rate has been as low as 20%.

Now, the links:

  1. Rahul Siddharthan continues the discussion on gated communities of the academic kind.

  2. Luis von Ahn: Startups and Carnegie Mellon: "If I were to start another company, I would do it out of CMU."

  3. Rahul Choudaha at Dr. Education: Why Indian Students will Continue to Study Abroad: "... "[T]here will a segment which would continue to go abroad for several reasons including ability to pay, quality of education, social prestige or experience."

  4. Talking about social prestige, here's a Mint column by Radha Chadha on American education: our biggest luxe brand: "Forget Louis Vuitton bags, Rolex watches and Mont Blanc pens—for that matter, forget bigger-ticket Mercedes and BMWs—American education is the luxury product that Indians are blowing serious dollars on."

  5. Interesting find of the week: You Are Not So Smart -- A blog 'devoted to self delusion and irrational thinking.' [Via Jason Kottke].

    Here's one on the Dunning-Kruger effect:

    The Misconception: You can predict how well you would perform in any situation.

    The Truth: You are generally pretty bad at estimating your competence and the difficulty of complex tasks.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Higher Ed Links ...


  1. Jeff Rybak on his book What's Wrong with University and How to Make It Work For You Anyway? (some chapter excerpts are available there too):

    The most essential problem with university today is that it has become, or at least it pretends to be, the answer to absolutely everyone’s success in life. Of course every student wants to be “successful,” but it must be obvious that we all have different goals. When this one institution becomes the answer to everyone’s everything, disappointment is inevitable. I’ll go further than “disappointment” and say that many students are downright miserable. Many are angry. Many feel betrayed.

    This book gets back to the essential questions that every student should have been encouraged to ask long before attending university. “What do you want? Why do you want this education? What do you intend to do with it?” We need to tear down the absurd idea that university is inheriently positive, always good for everyone, and never bad for anyone. How can that possibly be true when it’s failing so many students?

  2. Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee at VoxEU: Educational Attainment in the World, 1950 - 2010:

    Empirical investigations of the role of human capital require accurate measures across countries and over time. This column describes a new dataset on educational attainment for 146 countries at 5-year intervals from 1950 to 2010. The new data, freely available online, use more information and better methodology than existing datasets. Among the many new results is that the rate of return to an additional year of schooling on output is quite high – ranging from 5% to 12%.

  3. Does teaching matter at (American) universities? Interesting discussion at Crooked Timber and Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog.

  4. Laura at Apt. 11D: How Do You Explain Adjunct Exploitation (at American universities)?

  5. Two news reports on the tough times at American universities: Universities are offering doctorates but few jobs (LATimes) and US College Degrees: Still the Best among World's Top Universities? (Christian Science Monitor).

Gated communities of the academic kind


Over at An Academic View of India, Vikram highlights key differences between the US and India in the way their higher ed institutions interact with the community at large. This is something that I haven't thought much about, but the differences he highlights are very real. Take, for example, the following:

One thing that startled me when I started college in the US was that the university campus was completely open, i.e., there was no line or fence demarcating the university from the rest of the city/community. People could come on campus freely without having to go through checkpoints and guards. This is true across the US, I recently the visited the University of Washington which is even more mixed into the surrounding city than the University of Texas. It is hard for an outsider to exactly differentiate between the city and the university. People tell me univs like Harvard and MIT are even more integrated into the cities they are in. This is a far cry from IIT Mumbai, on whose outskirts I grew up. Even entry into the campus for the common folk was not allowed and the campus was surrounded by walls on all sides. It was as if a deliberate bifurcation was created, so the ‘elite’ students inside could be kept insulated from commoners like me and my friends. It would not surprise many that Indian universities barely think, study or teach about their surroundings.

Once this difference is acknowledged, quite a few other things must follow from it, and Vikram fleshes a few of them out -- including the elitism it breeds.

The comments section pointed to a recent opinion piece with a provocative title: Building Bostons, Not Kanpurs -- Why Indian cities must leverage their universities. In this piece, Sanjeev Sanyal says India has failed to leverage its universities for urban development, renewal and growth. He makes a pretty persuasive case against stand-alone campus far from the city (and worse, out in some wilderness):

This is a very wasteful process at many levels. First, it is unnecessarily converting productive farm and forest land. Why does Vedanta need 6,000 acres in Orissa and IIT Jodhpur 700 acres in Rajasthan for teaching a few thousand students? Second, it requires the creation of expensive infrastructure in isolated locations, including staff housing, convocation halls, seminar rooms and so on. How many times a year is the convocation hall used by the institution itself? In a city location, these facilities would have added to the overall urban infrastructure. Third, such remote campuses are inconsiderate of the social, educational and career needs of the families of the faculty and staff. This is a major constraint to finding good faculty. We cannot build universities as if they are industrial-era factory townships where the wives stay at home and the children study in the company school. Finally, and most damagingly, these campuses are unable to generate the externalities that one would associate with a good academic/research institute. Students come and leave. There is no clustering or inter-linkage with the real world.

The proposed IIT in Jodhpur is an example of how we are perpetuating the flawed model. The government has already acquired 700 acres of land about 22 km from Jodhpur. There a lot of talk about how it will be a “green” campus with solar panels and electric buses ferrying people from the city/airport. A number of complex options are being discussed to supply it with water. This is all meaningless when the most energy-efficient solution is to have had a compact campus that is nearer to the city. This would have automatically reduced the need to travel long distances and recreate social infrastructure. In addition, Jodhpur city has a problem with rising water tables and there is absolutely no need for expensive water-supply technologies when it can simply be pumped out. Worst of all, given the distance, the existing city will gain nothing from the creation of all the new and expensive infrastructure.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Links


  1. Prem Panicker at FTP: Fit To Post: Spell i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e:

    I think it was at that moment that I realized why a competition for pre- and early-teen kids spelling words the rest of us have never heard in our lives was being telecast on the premier sports channel: this was sport, at its finest. The preparatory work these kids do is analogous to the cricketer who spends endless hours practicing foot movement with the aid of a ball on a string; the golfer who, immured in his own private space, drives hundreds, even thousands, of balls a day seeking to perfect his swing… And the pressure of competition is just as much: literally millions of kids take part in the regional and state level bees that you have to win to qualify for the grand finals. This year, 273 kids — the highest ever number of contestants in Bee history — have made it to the final stage.

  2. My friend and colleague B. Ananthanarayan has an article in Phalanx entitled "Some Issues in 'Doing Science' in India."

    ... [T]he age of stalwarts everywhere in the world is essentially gone. No longer do we have the `Mendeleev' periodic table or the `Gaussian' distribution, or the Dirac equation, and even less the Darwin theory of the Mendel's law. It is worth keeping in mind that the Large Hadron Collider is built by thousands of nameless and faceless, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe project by hundreds of nameless and faceless, and that science today is indeed based on teamwork and is increasingly so. What the role of the individual scientist will be in this scientific environment is hard to say, but the times are exciting as we enter unknown frontiers on a daily basis, on the microscopic as well as the macroscopic, in elementary particle physics on the one hand and cosmology on the other, in biophysics and biochemistry where borders blur everyday.

  3. Manoj Mitta at Legal Airs: Why Canada Should Not Have Backed Off On Visa:

    The reason I went into these incredible details about the 1984 massacre is to give you a sense of how that episode in our history has become a benchmark of impunity. Nobody can be faulted for believing that if India had rendered justice to the victims of 1984, it would have perhaps been spared the trauma of further sectarian violence in 1992, 2002 and 2008. The casualties of these subsequent events were largely Muslims and Christians, a fact underlying the common interest that lies in grappling with this monster of impunity.

  4. Gulzar Natarajan at Urbanomics: Discrimination and the Economics of Life.

  5. One of the papers discussed in Gulzar's post reminded me of a study done by Sukhdeo Thorat and Paul Attewell: The Legacy of Social Exclusion. You need a subscription to read that paper, but you can find the abstract and a few excerpts in this post.

Adventures in Academic Publishing: The "arXiv vs snarXiv" edition


Only one of the following is the title of a real paper, and the other one is a fake title. Quick: which is which?

  1. A note on the neutrino theory of light

  2. The reduction of supergravity with general Kahler potential supported on T^n fibered over the null future of P^n

Man, the arXiv vs. snarXiv game is so addictive.

See this for more on the creator of this game.

* * *

FWIW, this was the next pair I got: "Towards Leptons" or "Baby Skyrmion Strings". Again, FWIW, the latter is real ;-)

* * *

Update::

1. The running commentary on your performance is pretty good too. When you get 75%, you are a "1st year grad student," but when you are at 40%, you're a "9th year grad student"!

2. I should link to these two cartoons: String Theory for Dummies at Abstruse Goose and Two Cultures at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Links ...


  1. Aniket Alam at Left ~ Write: How not to Understand Muslim Fundamentalism [on why he disagrees with Mahmood Mamdani's "well argued and seemingly persuasive thesis" that seeks to de-legitimize people's right to ridicule/mock/criticize a tradition/religion that they don't belong to]:

    Attacking living human beings, deepening prejudice against them which weakens their political and social positions is not the same as attacking an idea or belief, however similar they may appear to us.

  2. Steve Coll in New Yorker: What I Learned About Blogging:

    Some things I did not expect that turned out to be true: ... 3) Aggregation and calling attention to other people’s good work without much effort on your own part is enough justification for blogging in the first place.

    Some problems that I half-expected that also turned out to be true: 1) Writing fast about serious subjects because they are in the news, without doing a lot of reporting first, can produce crap. [...]

  3. Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird has been delighting book lovers for 50 years. Here's the NYTimes review from 1960 [pdf]. NYTimes also offers a lots of links to stuff about the author, her lone novel, the movie, reviews and critical essays.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Impact of Initial Conditions


In an article filled with angst about Bengali cricketers with early promise getting sidelined / ignored repeatedly, Ashok Guha offers examples that illustrate the importance of early encouragement from bosses and protection from godfathers for a successful career (not just in cricket, I suppose, though that's the context of Guha's piece).

First, here's how Guha on the exploits of an Indian debutant -- S.T. Banerjee -- in the 1992 Sydney test match:

A pace bowler, he was brought into the attack on the first morning after Kapil and Prabhakar could not dislodge the Australian openers, Taylor and Marsh. He promptly bowled out Marsh. After he was rested, Taylor and Boon comfortably added almost a hundred before Azhar recalled him. He immediately had Taylor caught behind and Mark Waugh caught in the slips. He was given very little to do thereafter but finished the innings with three for 47 off 18 overs. India then amassed a lead of 170 runs thanks to a double century from Shastri and a century from Sachin. In their second innings, Australia struggled for five hours to avoid an innings defeat. Eventually, they reached 173 for eight when the match ended. The Indians lost their only opportunity to redeem themselves on a tour in which they had been soundly thrashed everywhere else. During these five hours, with India’s only victory looming as a very real possibility, the debutant, the outstanding bowler in the first innings, was not asked by his captain to bowl a single ball. Nor was he played in the two subsequent Tests, in which India were crushed as usual.

And here are the two lessons:

... [T]wo lessons [are] ... to be drawn from the contrasting fates of Warne and Srinath on the one hand and S.T. Banerjee on the other. The first relates to the role that early encouragement plays in the blossoming of individual potential. Could any debut have been less promising than that of Warne? Could any paceman have been manhandled more savagely in his initial series than was Srinath? The fact that, throughout these ordeals, their captains and the selectors never lost faith in their ability protected their self-confidence from the sledge-hammer impact of cruel experience. And, conversely, nothing is easier than to nip early promise in the bud by calculated disparagement. No blow to Banerjee’s morale could have been more devastating than denial of the ball in the second innings at Sydney. That the youngster was the only successful bowler on the opening day of the Test after Azhar had won the toss and inserted Australia, that he had thereby saved his captain’s face, that he had dismissed three of the finest batsmen that Australia had produced all meant nothing to Azhar — and therefore, in the ultimate analysis, to Banerjee. When neglect in the second innings was followed by omission from the subsequent Tests, the only conclusion that Banerjee could have drawn was of the futility of all effort.

The second lesson of our story is the indispensability of godfathers in a field dominated by huge monopolistic hierarchies like the Board of Control for Cricket in India. [...]

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Annals of Extreme Coaching


A cram school in Hyderabad claims to have six students among the top 10 in JEE, and eight among the top ten in AIEEE. Here's the not-so-secret recipe:

Narayana Group of Institutions bagged six of the top-10 ranks in IIT-JEE and eight of the top-10 ranks in AIEEE this year. “We could achieve the feat this year as we were training these students right from Class VII. We set up ‘Olympiad Schools’ five years ago just for training students for IIT-JEE and AIEEE. The first batch completed Class XII this year and the results are here to be seen.”

He, however, admitted that though they had secured good ranks in earlier years, this year’s feat was unmatchable. “Earlier, we had only junior colleges wherein we gave admissions to students after they completed Class X from different schools. The two years time in Intermediate was not sufficient to train them for IIT-JEE and AIEEE in a complete manner. Now, with the launch of our own schools from Class VII, we can train students comprehensively for five years till Class XII. The concept proved to be a success as we could achieve top-10 ranks with our very first batch of students,” Dr Narayana said. [Bold emphasis added]